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After a 7hr 40min Delta Airlines flight from London Heathrow, Tom, Ian and myself touched down at Terminal 3 JFK Airport, New York City to find a beautiful day and temperatures in the high 60's Fahrenheit.
After queueing patiently at Custom's we were allowed into the 'good old US of A'. My only complaint was that the un-usually friendly custom officer decided to stamp my passport right in the middle pages and not at either end where all the other immigration officers from the various countries I have visited had stamped their various passes!
We were quickly approached by a man who stated that he would take us to our hotel for a reasonable fee which turned out to be around $19 each. This actually turned out to be $29 because taxes were not included in the original quote.
About an hour later and after dropping a few people off at various hotels around Manhattan, we arrived at our hotel, The Hampton Inn Manhattan SoHo on Watts St, Soho.
We checked in and then went to our room. Oh dear! 2 normal double beds for 3 fully grown blokes! However after speaking to the hotel manager a camp bed was later placed between the two beds. Originally we were all going to spend 2 nights each on the camp bed but being the hero I am, I had it for the entire stay. An unexpected bonus was that the hotel gave out complimentary breakfasts.
We then hit the nightlife in the immediate area of the hotel and after a few beers had our first meal in the 'Lucky Strike' bar/restaurant at 59 Grand St. The reasonably priced meal was very good and we ate there on 3 occasions during the trip and was never disappointed.
After a few more beers at 'Cafe Noir' bar at 32 Grand St, a bar which had a great atmosphere, we ended up at the hotel bar where we were entertained by Brandon the bar man as we were to be all week.
On Tuesday, 8th November we set off from the hotel and walked towards The World Trade Centre site. It wasn't hard to find as the new WTC Tower 1, to be known as the 'Freedom Tower' was already stretching up into the sky and was a lot taller than any other building in the area.
We were to visit The Ground Zero site on Wednesday. I had booked this from home as the only way of gaining access to the site was to pre book on line.
We had a pleasant walk along the Hudson River esplanade which gave great views of Jersey City, Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty. We also visited the New York City Police memorial. I was immediately struck by the amount of fatalities since 9/11 where I knew that a lot of officers had died through inhalation of poisonous fumes when the towers collapsed. I didn't realise how many!
We continued through Battery Park and on to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. We caught the free ferry and went over to Staten Island. The ferry passage gave views of The Statue of
On arriving in Staten Island we walked along Bay St and found a bar where we passed the time until the return ferry back. Well actually we caught about the fourth ferry that we could have caught!!
On arriving back in Lower Manhattan we walked to South Seaport before settling into a bar called 'Heartland Brewery' in South St. I had perviously visted this bar on my last visit to New York in 1992 when it was called the 'North Star Brewery'. I still have the T shirt!
We then walked back to the hotel and spent the night in SoHo.
On Wednesday 9th November,we again walked towards the World Trade Centre Site. Amongst the sites that we visited were the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, Federal Hall and the Wall Street Bull!! We past Zuccotti Park where the wall Street protest was being held. One of the funniest things that I saw there was a NYPD Police Officer with dreadlocks! His flat cap was sitting about 6 inches above his head. Talk about looking daft!
We then entered the Ground Zero site and spent an hour there. It was very sobering and the site is a magnificent memorial to those poor souls who perished here over 10 years ago. It was very strange standing next to the South Tower footprint knowing that 19 years ago I had stood on the top of the tower.
We then walked along Broadway for 90 mins or so and reached Times Square. After watching all the electronic bill boards we then continued walking north and upon reaching W51st St and 6th Ave, we saw another 'Heartland Brewery'. So it was in there for a pint. We deserved it having walked about 7 miles throughout the day!!
After a few libations we caught the A train on the NY sub way system and went back to the hotel. We spent the evening in the SoHo area.
On Thursday 10th November we went to the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise desk and booked ourselves on the 1pm sailing which circles the Island of Manhattan. To pass the 2 hours or so until the cruise, we went on the USS Intrepid which is an old US Navy aircraft carrier converted into a military museum. The size of the thing was incredible. One of the Concorde's is also on display. The highlight for me was seeing the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird bomber which must be one of the most beautiful aircrafts ever built. The one on display was 50 years old and when in service flew from the US to UK in under 2 hours!
We then set sail on the Circle Line cruise which departed from Pier 83 at the junction of W42nd St and 12th Ave. I had done this cruise twice before. 1985 and 1992. It was still a great cruise which was brilliantly narrated by a 'Dick Van Dyke' soundalike! The cruise which took almost 3 hours, starts off by sailing south along the Hudson River into New York's Upper Bay where you get close up views of Ellis and Liberty Island. We then sailed north into the East River and under the Brooklyn Bridge. The cruise continues the entire length of Manhattan Island passing all the main sites before entering the Harlem River and then out into the Hudson River again. It then gives great views of the Upper West Side before passing under the George Washington Bridge and returning to Pier 83. Well worth the $36 fee.
Later that evening we returned to the Times Square area and went to the Havana Central bar on W47th St. What a great place. Beautiful Latin Cuban jazz being played live by great musicians. The menu looked very appetising so we decided to eat. The Lobster stuffed avocado starter and the main dish 'Churrasco' were to die for. Tom and Ian had Paella which looked excellent to and price was reasonable to for a central NY bar/restaurant.
On Friday 11th November we caught the sub way to W59th St Columbus Circle. It was our intention to walk through Central Park. On entering the south side of the Park we saw that there were cycles for hire. All on a sudden a guy who introduced himself as 'Terry' asked if we would like to hire cycles from a friend of his and that we could have them for $25 for the whole day. After a quick discussion between the 3 of us we decided 'why not'. We then followed Terry and after about 10 minutes of walking, in which time we had all started to become a bit suspicious about whether we were being set up, we arrived on 57th St and the bike shop. The bikes were excellent although the price was now $30 for the day!
We pushed the bikes to Central Park and began cycling. The road around Central Park is one way and you cycle anti-clockwise.
Central Park is really beautiful especially at this time of year when the trees are changing colour. It is sometimes hard to believe that you are in the middle of one of the worlds largest cities.
We exited Central Park at the north end and cycled to the East River Plaza at East 116th St. We had been led to believe that it was a shopping mall with lots of designer outlets. It was nothing of the sort. It was five low class stores and a wasted trip!
We then cycled towards Harlem and made our way to West 126th St and the Apollo Theatre. I have always been interested in the role that this theatre had in the history of black entertainment so it was great to see it. I know that Harlem has had some 'bad press' over the years but the people there were friendly and the whole area had a good feel about it.
We then cycled back through Central Park stopping a few times to admire the beautiful architecture of some of the buildings on Central Park West especially the San Remo and Dakota buildings, the latter being the former home of Beatle John Lennon. We also visited Strawberry Fields where Lennon was murdered.
After we had dropped the cycles back on W57th St we visited Kennedy's Restaurant/Bar which was next door. Today was Veterans Day and there were a few ex service men in the bar, Tom McGiven and Sam Perry, who we struck up conversation with. Both were interesting characters and we had a pleasant hour talking with them.
After returning to the hotel and getting changed, cycling makes you sweat you know, we stayed very local in SoHo and had a meal at an interesting place called Lupe's East LA kitchen at 110 6th Ave. This place was not much bigger than my front room and although the staff were totally disorganised, the food and service was pretty good. There was also a nice atmosphere in the place.
On Saturday, 12th November, we walked along 6th Ave to Times Square stopping at a Pub called Connolly's on W45th St. We watched the England v Spain football match followed, bizarrely by Fleetwood Town v Wycombe Wanderers!! Oh yes. Quite a bit lot of Guinness was consumed!
We returned to the SoHo area and had our third meal at the 'Lucky Strike' before finishing the night off at 'Cafe Noir'.
Back at the hotel bar Brandon the bar man started plying me with cocktails and to be honest the rest of the night was a bit of a blur!!
On Sunday, 13th November, we had a lazy stroll through the West Village which was really nice and did in fact have a village atmosphere to it. We found a walk way which is known as 'The High Line'. This is an old metro line which was on elevated track - some of the tracks are still there. It runs from Gansevoort St to W30th Street, about a mile and a half. What a lovely walk giving great views of the West Side and New Jersey across the Hudson.
We ended up in yet another 'Heartland Brewery', this time one at the junction of W41st St and 8th Ave.
After a few beers and bite to eat it was time to return to the hotel and make our way to JFK airport for our flight home.
In summary, a brilliant trip with two great mates. We had a laugh from start to finish. The weather was incredible. High 60's for most of the week. I never had to put my winter coat on and it is hard to believe that there were blizzards in New York two weeks previously!
We saw a lot of the city and the only thing that we really didnt do was go to the top of one of NY tall buildings. Silly money was being asked to go up the Empire State.
All the photo's from this trip can be viewed on my Facebook site.